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slow recovery

By Diogenes (articles ) | May 23, 2008

I'm pleased to see rumors surfacing that Pope Benedict has plans to install some guidelines for the concelebrated Eucharist in order to initiate a "return to the original meaning of concelebration, which is a sign of unity of priests."

The problem is the blurring of the ikon of priestly offering that occurs most blatantly in mega-Masses. As Benedict phrased it, "To adore ... is possible also at a distance; but to celebrate, a limited community is necessary which can interact with the mystery." If the altar is situated at first base, I can worship the sacred species from the left field bleachers, but for a priest to put out his paw to confect the Eucharist at 180 yards distance stretches the theology of concelebration to the breaking point. Something important got lost.

Of course the imagery of priestly Eucharistic sacrifice can be deformed in the opposite direction. Several bloggers who followed the Jesuits' recent General Congregation registered their bafflement and dismay at the photos displayed of the daily Eucharist, in which the assembled priests neither concelebrated nor assisted in choir dress, but simply "went to Mass" garbed as laymen. By no means limited to the Jesuits, this non-advertence to priesthood distorts the theology of the sacrament and betrays a confusion about the meaning and purpose of ordination. The message communicated to the faithful is that the priest regards his priesthood as a hobby that he may indulge or ignore as convenience so inclines him. Recent popes have strongly urged that all priests celebrate Mass every day, even in the absence of a congregation, but this appeal is accorded the same respect the priest has for the petrine office in general.

Slowly, and sporadically, signs of reform are making themselves felt. Those 1970s ponchos are giving way to chasubles in some places. One occasionally finds the altar in a sanctuary. Most importantly, the regard Benedict has for the liturgy of the Eucharist, and for his priesthood as a servant of that liturgy, has begun to communicate itself to a younger generation of Catholics and to the clergy that will minister to them ten, and twenty, and thirty years from now. The return of concelebration to its proper domain is part of the this effort of wholesome restoration which, if it can survive the guerrilla actions of the liturgists, augurs a more authentically Catholic experience of worship.

Tip to NLM and Father Z.

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  • Posted by: - May. 25, 2008 9:26 AM ET USA

    "I can worship the sacred species from the left field bleachers, but for a priest to put out his paw to confect the Eucharist at 180 yards distance stretches the theology of concelebration to the breaking point. Something important got lost." This is a wonderful and mysterious thing, so one must be careful. Time and space at the moment of transubstantiation in a way become irrelevant. But those who cannot see deeply into what is actually happening must be respected..

  • Posted by: - May. 23, 2008 7:15 PM ET USA

    When, in my hometown diocese, priests gathered annually at Synod Hall, a half-dozen altars were set up in the auditorium of the adjacent school and the cathedral’s altar boys were summoned very early in the a.m. to assist at each priest’s Mass. I recall that each of us served at very many Masses in a very short time. Of course, that was in the 50’s. Today, those priests could simply concelebrate with one layperson present – no altar boy needed. I suppose, these days, priests can’t be bothered.

  • Posted by: - May. 23, 2008 4:37 PM ET USA

    Schillebeeckx, Can. 904 ...priests are to celebrate [Mass] frequently; indeed, daily celebration is recommended earnestly since, even if the faithful cannot be present, it is the act of Christ and the Church in which priests fulfill their principal function. Can. 906 Except for a just and reasonable cause, a priest is not to celebrate [Mass] without the participation of at least some member of the faithful. Can you show a conflicting Vat. 2 doc? Jesuit John

  • Posted by: - May. 23, 2008 10:42 AM ET USA

    The Dominican theologian, Edward Schillebeeckx, told me some years ago that, for him, the most significant outcome of Vatican II was that he no longer accepted the validity of a Mass said without a congregation.

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